There are days—I imagine for most writers—when we have to get out of the house. We toss aside our PJs, brush our hair, dress in clothes that button, snap and zip, and pull on a pair of shoes. That’s why I find myself at Panera Bread today. I needed to get out of the house. A crying baby, actually he’s about two years old, finds himself at the table next to me.
Certain tasks are easier to undertake in a coffee-shop setting. My task today is to review the first-pass page proofs for BENT ROAD. (First-pass page proofs is a technical term that I stole from the instruction letter I received from the Penguin production department.)
I would say this is the third phase of the editorial process—at least from my perspective. As I’ve mentioned before, the coach just put me in the game, so I have much to learn. The first phase once the book is sold includes the editor and author working together to perfect things like structure and plot and those other elements I wrote about on Monday. The editor flags the 294 times the author used the word shrug in the manuscript. She identifies every opportunity to wrench more suspense out of the story, to escalate the tension, to up the stakes for each and every character. The editor loves the book as much as the author loves it, and the author breathes her first sigh of relief because her book is in such gifted hands.
After this phase, the manuscript moves on to a copyeditor. While I have met my editor, I have not met the copyeditor. I know him or her only by the initials CE, which stands for copyeditor and not his/her name. (I assume.) These initials tagged all of the comments that CE left for me in the electronic version of the manuscript. Among many other things, CE caught all of my typos and dangling modifiers. I even once used the word set when I should have used sit. Or was it sit when I should have used set. This is akin to an accountant mixing up her debit and credits. Should I ever meet CE, I will blush over this error.
Following the copyediting phase—and again I speak only from my limited experience because I can’t possibly appreciate or understand all that transpires on a book’s behalf within the publisher’s walls—the first-pass page proofs are produced. (Say that fast three times.) During this phase, the pages are laid in the font and style chosen for book by professional designers. They appear as they will in final print. This is the last time I will be able to make any changes, add a few commas, cut repetitive words, catch all the sentences that clunk.
Back at my table, the young boy still crying next to me some ten minutes later, I pull the manuscript I am to review from a waterproof mailer. I am appreciative of the waterproof nature of the large envelop as I rescued it from the path of a sprinkler head earlier in the day. I wonder momentarily why the boy continues to scream for Mama when Mama is sitting directly across from him. Grandma, too, it appears, also sits at the table.
I slide two rubberbands from around the manuscript and slip them on my wrist, an old habit from my public accounting days. I’m taking my time because the boy is still screaming. He throws bits of bagel at his mother. He doesn’t mess with Grandma. All of the other patrons seated in the outside dining have left. I have too much spread across my table to make a quick exit.
The title, BENT ROAD, is printed across the first page of the manuscript. Next page, blank. Next page, title page. (I know the name of this page because it’s the one an author signs. It’s also the page that includes the author’s name.) Next page, publisher’s information and disclaimer that the book is a work of fiction. Next page…
There are a few moments that most writers dream about. Lunch with a literary agent. Yes, I had this pleasure. Drinks in Soho with an editor. Yes, I’ve also had this pleasure. As I stare down on the next page, I think that any passers-by will assume that my eyes glisten because the boy at the next table has been crying for fifteen minutes, but in fact it’s because I have turned to the dedication page. It’s another one of those dreams that I think all of us writers share.
My moment passes, my eyes clear, and the boy still screams. Grandma appears to have finished her coffee and they are packing up, leaving a splattering of bagels bits on the patio for the seagulls. Using my novelist’s eye, I wonder what story lies behind these three. Perhaps the boy has screamed for his mama for fifteen minutes because, in fact, the woman across from him is not his mama. Perhaps Grandma is not Grandma but really she is a …..No. Only a Mother could have such patience. I give a nod as they pass, because yes, I remember those days when I thought the tears might never stop, and flip to the next page….blank.